Ebola forcing Congolese to change the way they bury the dead

In Beni, they have changed the way they bury the dead.

There is little ceremony now and there are no public prayers. Instead, traditional rituals have been replaced by an elaborate process designed to halt the spread of infection.

This morning, at the city morgue, there was a little coffin sitting in front of the main door. It was wrapped in decorative plastic and it had been built for a baby or a small child.

Image: Family members are not allowed to get close to the bodies of those they have lost to Ebola

There was a baby inside who had died during child birth just a few hours earlier. The little girl was suspected of contracting Ebola and the mother was gravely ill.

However, I could see the child’s grandmother looking on from the side. After a few minutes a man in a protective suit told her she could take a look at the body.

She approached slowly as the burial team sprayed the path with disinfectant and she quickly glanced at the child. But she was not allowed to linger and she could not touch the body as Congolese tradition dictates.

An official from the Red Cross told me why.

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“We are careful because every dead body [in Beni] is suspected of Ebola,” said Cleophas Vyavuwa.

“The virus is so dangerous that if we touched it without protection we risk losing our lives.”

Burial teams take no risks when it comes to dealing with bodies of those who have died from Ebola

Image: Burial teams take no risks when it comes to dealing with bodies of those who have died from Ebola

The coffin was loaded onto the back of a pick-up truck, then driven through town.

I could see the locals keeping their distance. People on motorcycles passed on the far side of the road as if they risked contamination if they came too close.

Clearly, most residents are afraid and there are some who simply don’t want to know – itself a product of fear.

It is a major reason why the World Health Organisation has re-classified this outbreak as a global emergency with some 1,700 losing their lives.

An ad-hoc burial site for Ebola victims has been set up in a forest

Image: An ad-hoc burial site for Ebola victims has been set up in a forest

The pickup stopped at an ad-hoc burial ground that has been carved from the forest outside Beni. Men with heavy-duty gloves weaved around the freshly dug graves as they carried the coffin to its designated spot.

The relatives of the dead, like Muhindo Mathe, the child’s grandfather, were told to keep their distance and that is extremely difficult for some. Family members are supposed to organise the funeral – it is they who decide where their loved ones are laid to rest.

Mr Mathe said: “We are losing our family members and you know, in our culture, people would come and see you and give messages of compassion but that isn’t possible today.”

The family of the little girl, who was named Masika Mathe, have followed the rules – they have the permitted members of the Red Cross to bury the child.

The grave of young girl Masika Mathe, who is feared to have contracted Ebola

Image: The grave of young girl Masika Mathe, who is feared to have contracted Ebola

But there are many Congolese who have not and it has fuelled the spread of Ebola.

Susana Rico, who works for the World Food Programme, is one of the most experienced coordinators on the ground and told me that this is a crucial argument that has to be won if they are going to rid this region of Ebola.

She said: “Just allowing someone else to handle that body is a leap culturally, but that has to be overcome – even if it is an enormous change.

“Where we have seen the community taking charge, it begins to change. It is happening in some communities.”

US warship destroys Iranian drone in Strait of Hormuz

A US warship has destroyed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz, says President Trump.

He said the USS Boxer took “defensive action” after the drone ignored repeated warnings and came within 1,000 yards of the ship.

The president called it a “provocative and hostile” action by Iran.

It comes amid a period of heightened tension between the two countries, which included Iran last month shooting down a US drone it said was flying over the country.

That incident saw Mr Trump call off a retaliatory strike at the last minute because he said too many people would have died.

The Strait of Hormuz is a vital shipping lane for oil and gas, but has become a flash point following the US decision to pull out of a nuclear deal with Iran and impose strict sanctions that are seriously damaging Iran’s economy.

A foreign tanker with 12 crew was seized by Iran in the strait on Sunday, according to state television in the country.

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It claimed the Panamanian-flagged MT Riah was smuggling around one million litres of fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers.

Iran has recently increased uranium production and enrichment over the limits of the 2015 nuclear deal to try to put pressure on Europe to offer it better terms and allow it to sell its oil abroad.

The US has subsequently sent thousands of additional troops, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and fighter jets to the region.

Western powers have also blamed Iran for two mine attacks on oil tankers last month off the country’s coast – something it denies.

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Beach-goers come together to save pod of stranded whales

A group of beachgoers and several lifeguards came together to help a pod of pilot whales back into deeper waters after they came too close to shore in the US state of Georgia.

Nine pilot whales became stranded, and while rescuers where able to push six of them back into deeper water, three of them died, Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said.

Onlookers captured the rescue on videos that have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on social media.

Image: Pilot whales grow seven metres long and can weigh up to three tonnes

The footage showed groups of people trying to push several glossy black pilot whales in knee-high water away from the shallows.

Pilot whales grow seven metres long and can weigh up to three tonnes.

Clay George, a biologist with the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, told the New York Times that “something went wrong” for the creatures, which normally swim 100 miles offshore.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that the group dodged a bullet and that they’re now on their way to deeper water,” Clay was cited as saying.

It is not known why whales sometimes beach themselves, but the whales travel together in pods and are known to follow a leader.

Records set to fall as 'dangerous' heatwave hits US

Temperature records could fall as a “widespread and dangerous” heatwave descends on central and eastern parts of America.

The National Weather Service is predicting high temperatures and humidity across several states, including Michigan and Kansas, while Washington DC will feel almost as hot as Death Valley in California.

The capital will bake in a forecast high of 38C (100F), but it will feel closer to 43C (110F) – prompting mayor Muriel Bowser to declare a heat emergency.

Image: Children play at a fountain in the Columbia Heights neighbourhood of Washington DC

Her Philadelphia and New York counterparts have followed suit, with hundreds of cooling centres to be set up in the latter to help people cope.

New York mayor Bill de Blasio said: “Extreme heat is dangerous, period. I urge all New Yorkers to exercise caution this weekend as temperatures near 100F (38C). We are deploying all resources at our disposal to ensure New Yorkers remain safe and cool during extreme heat.”

The heatwave is expected to peak on Friday and Saturday, but has already had an impact in some parts.

In Shawnee, Oklahoma, a road buckled under the heat – and in Chicago cooling centres like those planned for New York have already been opened.

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Philadelphia in Pennsylvania is one of the most likely to set a new record high.

The city has never experienced the mercury going higher than 36C (97F), but it has been tipped to hit 38C (100F).

A very good boy named Keith enjoys the hot weather in Boston, Massachusetts

Image: Keith enjoys the hot weather in Boston, Massachusetts

Other east coast cities that could see records fall are Atlantic City in New Jersey and Richmond in Virginia, which could both record triple-figure temperatures for the first time.

Meteorologist Jim Hayes, of the National Weather Service, said: “It will be about as sweltering as it gets in some places in the eastern and central US.

“We’re really more concerned about the combination of high temperatures and high humidity causing people stress, because it’s more difficult to cool yourself down when there’s moisture in the air.”

People cool off in Washington Square Park, New York, as temperatures begin to climb

Image: People cool off in Washington Square Park, New York, as temperatures begin to climb

In total, more than 130 million Americans are under a heat watch, warning or advisory due to the incoming heatwave, which will still make its presence felt well after the sun has set.

Sky News weather producer Joanna Robinson said: “It is the very high temperatures and humidity together that is of concern – heat index values give a ‘feels like’ temperature and that will be 100F (38C) to 110F (43C) for a large area over the weekend.

“There will also be little relief at night.”

Western Europe may also be set for another heatwave of sorts.

While temperatures will stay well below the unprecedented highs seen last month, they are on the rise.

Heat is also building briefly for the UK early next week.

It will turn hot for parts of the UK on Tuesday, especially central, southern and eastern England, where temperatures are likely to reach the low 30s.

Trump claims he 'felt bad' about racist chants at his rally

Donald Trump has attempted to distance himself from the “send her back” chants aimed at Somali-born congresswoman Ilhan Omar during an election rally.

The president has been engaged in an escalating war of words with Ms Omar and three of her Democrat colleagues in recent days, having kicked off the racism row when he told them they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came”.

He dedicated 20 minutes of a lengthy speech in North Carolina on Wednesday evening to criticising group known as “The Squad”, which eventually led to his frenzied audience chanting “send her back” in reference to Ms Omar.

Trump crowd chants ‘send her back’

Mr Trump has since said he “was not happy” about what the crowd had to say, despite having invited the congresswoman and other fierce critics of his to leave the country just a few days ago.

He told reporters at the White House: “I felt a little bit badly about it. I would say that I was not happy with it. I disagreed with it. But again, I didn’t say that. They did. And I disagreed with it.”

Among the false claims he made about Ms Omar during his rally were that she had praised al Qaeda, and he did nothing to stop the chants when they began.

Boos continued to ring out as the Republican spoke about Ms Omar and her colleagues, who are fierce critics of his immigration policies and rhetoric.

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Ms Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib were all elected in the US midterms last year and have risen to prominence for their commitment to policies further left than senior figures in their party.

The president told his supporters they were “helping to fuel the rise of a dangerous, militant hard left” and has also referred to them as the “four horsewomen of the apocalypse”.

Representative-elect Ilhan Omar, D-MN, attends a press conference in the House Visitors Center at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on November 30, 2018. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Image: Ilhan Omar is one of only two Muslim women in Congress

'The Squad': Who are the congresswomen in Trump's firing line?

‘The Squad’: Who are the congresswomen in Trump’s firing line?

Meet the four congresswomen at the centre of a race row with Donald Trump

Ms Omar, who is one of only two Muslim women in Congress, tweeted a quote from Maya Angelou, the American poet, singer and civil rights activist, following the rally.

It said: “You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise.”

Ms Omar has received support from across the world, with #IStandWithIlhan trending on Twitter.

Presidential candidate Kamala Harris said the rally “defiles the office of the president”, and Jon Favreau, who served in the Obama administration, said it was “one of the most chilling and horrifying things I’ve ever seen in politics”.

In the UK, London mayor Sadiq Khan – himself a frequent target for Mr Trump – said the four congresswomen “represent hope for the future”.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Ocasio-Cortez: Trump can’t defend policies so he attacks us

Mr Trump has defended his comments about the congresswomen, tweeting that “I don’t have a racist bone in my body”, but the Democratic-led House of Representatives voted to brand his original tweets as “racist comments”.

However, it rejected an effort by one Democrat to impeach the president due to opposition from party leaders.

Shop chain apologies over 'condom offer' for secretaries

Convenience store chain Circle K has apologised over a gift promotion for secretaries that included a bottle of wine, chocolate and box of condoms.

The advert appeared in Mexico but has now been withdrawn after being criticised as sexist and reinforcing stereotypes.

Social media users lambasted the Canadian-owned company for letting the advert go out.

“I doubt that any company exceeds its level of misogyny, discrimination and machismo,” posted one user, El Principito.

Patricia Mercado, a Mexican senator, tweeted that the advert “promoted a practice that we need to eradicate: harassment and sexual harassment at work”.

Mexico celebrates different professions throughout the year, often by buying a card and a small gift.

The advert on Circle’s K’s Twitter account encouraged people to buy an “executive combo”, with one of the three options made up of a box of condoms, a Milky Way and a bottle of wine.

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It also included a suggestive tag line with a cheeky-looking emoji.

“If you know what I mean 😏,” the advert read.

Circle K tweeted that it “profoundly regrets” the advert and that inclusion and equality is central to its business.

It said it had “taken necessary measure so that this does not happen again”.

Man who lost leg in shooting spots limb being used on cigarette packets

An amputee is seeking answers as to why a picture showing the remainder of his leg is being featured on cigarette packets to deter people from smoking.

The 60-year-old man, who lives in the northeastern French city of Metz, was made aware of the image by his son after he bought some rolling tobacco in Luxembourg.

It was displayed alongside the message “smoking clogs your arteries”, even though the man says he lost his leg in a shooting in his native Albania back in 1997.

Image: French media reports that the man lost his leg in a shooting in 1997

His son recognised the distinctive scars and brought a packet of the tobacco back to France, and a lawyer for the man is now working to get to the bottom of why it was allowed to happen without his consent.

Antoine Fittante told radio station France Bleu: “It’s incredible that a person ends up, without his agreement, on packs of cigarettes from the European Union.”

He added: “His amputation has absolutely nothing to do with a problem related to tobacco.

“My client feels betrayed. We must recognise that it is not very pleasant.”

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Six weeks before the cigarette packet was discovered, the man had visited a local hospital in the hope that he might be able to be provided with equipment to help him walk.

Mr Fittante said he has since written to the hospital to find out how the photo ended up being used, and he has also contacted the European Commission.

The executive branch of the EU is responsible for the distribution of such images on cigarette packets, and Mr Fittante said they are normally sourced from a verified database.

Death sentences for IS supporters who beheaded backpackers

Three Islamic State supporters have been sentenced to death for the killings of two Scandinavian backpackers found murdered in their tent in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains.

A fourth man who fled the scene has been sentenced to life in prison, while 19 accomplices were given jail terms ranging from five to 30 years.

The bodies of Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark, and Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway were found decapitated in December in the popular hiking area south of Marrakesh.

The men recorded the attack posted it online.

Ms Jespersen and Ms Ueland were on an unguided trip and camping close to North Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Toubkal.

The men have all vowed allegiance to the terrorist organisation Islamic State in a video.

None of the men reacted as the sentences were read out.

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All 23 men addressed the court ahead of the verdicts, asking the judge for leniency, while the main defendants asked Allah for forgiveness.

Jounes Ouzayed and Rashid Afatti are carpenters while Abdessamad Al Joud is a street merchant.

The man who fled the murder scene is Khaiali Abderahman.

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Iran seizes tanker accused of smuggling oil

Iran has seized a foreign tanker with 12 crew accused of smuggling oil in the Persian Gulf, the country’s state TV says.

The seizure comes as tensions mount between the US and Iran over the unravelling nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, and days after an oil tanker based in the United Arab Emirates disappeared off trackers in Iranian national waters.

The Panamanian-flagged oil tanker MT Riah stopped transmitting its location overnight on Sunday near Qeshm Island, which has a Revolutionary Guard base on it.

Iran’s state TV did not identify the seized vessel, but said it was intercepted on Sunday in south of Iran’s Larak Island in the Strait of Hormuz.

The report added that the oil tanker had 12 foreign crew members on board and was involved in smuggling around one million litres of fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers.

Earlier this week, a US defence official said that America “has suspicions” that Iran seized the oil tanker when it turned off its tracker in the Strait of Hormuz, the Associated Press reported.

An Emirati official said the small oil tanker made no distress call before switching off its tracker.

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The 58 metre (190ft) oil tanker typically made trips from Dubai and Sharjah on the UAE’s west coast before going through the strait and heading towards Fujairah on the UAE’s east coast.

Acknowledgement of the recent seizure by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard appears to contradict statements by Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman on Wednesday, who said the country had aided a foreign oil tanker with a malfunction.

The move by the Guard comes after President Donald Trump pulled the US out of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers last year and imposed sanctions, including on Iranian oil experts, thus heightening tensions between the two countries.

Sky News’ diplomatic editor Dominic Waghorn said the missing MT Riah “went off the radar” a few days ago and was thought to have wandered or towed into Iranian waters.

Image: Crew members are pictured on the oil supertanker after it was seized off the coast of Gibraltar

He added: “The question is, have the Iranian’s seized this smaller tanker that no one is really claiming ownership of, and are they going to parade it as a foreign tanker they’ve seized, and does it have anything to do with the UK?

“The Iranians have been threatening for a while, following the seizure of a supertanker in Gibraltar, that they would settle scores with the UK.”

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani last week told the UK it faces “consequences” after British forces seized an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar.

The Grace 1 was boarded by Royal Marines over accusations it was breaking sanctions by taking an estimated two million barrels of crude oil to Syria.

Iran has recently increased uranium production and enrichment over the limits of its 2015 nuclear deal as it aims to put more pressure on Europe to offer it better terms and allow it to sell its crude oil abroad.

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Video emerges of Trump and Epstein partying in 1992

Footage has emerged of Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein at a party together in 1992.

The archive NBC footage shows the now US president and billionaire financier Epstein, who is facing sex trafficking charges, laughing and joking together.

Mr Trump is also seen dancing to Rhythm Is A Dancer by Snap! in the clip.

At the time, he was a newly-divorced real estate mogul and Epstein’s infamous judicial deal was more than 10 years in the future.

There is no suggestion that there was any criminal wrongdoing taking place at the party and Mr Trump now claims he never liked Epstein.

Earlier this month, Epstein, 66, pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking, after prosecutors said they found “nude photographs of what appeared to be underage girls”, when federal agents searched his apartment.

He was arrested on 6 July on charges relating to claims dating back to the 2000s.

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Image: Epstein (left) and Mr Trump pose together in 1997 at the Mar-a-Lago estate

Epstein has also been accused of creating and maintaining a network that allowed him to sexually exploit dozens of girls, some as young as 14, from 2002 to 2005.

In 2007, he struck a deal which saw him plead guilty to a lesser Florida state felony prostitution charge when he was accused of sexually abusing dozens of girls as young as 14 from 1999.

He served a 13-month sentence in county jail, during which he was allowed to leave during the day to go to his office.

There is no suggestion Mr Trump was involved in or had knowledge of any wrongdoing related to Epstein.